Loneliness. It had been Shana Morland’s companion
for so long that she rarely noticed the emotion. Tonight, however, it
was suffocating her, closing in on her as tightly as the thick
Pennsylvania forest surrounding her. She tried to shake off the feeling,
but it clung to her tenaciously.
With a heavy sigh, she leaned a shoulder against the
tree beside her. As she watched the festivities taking place in the
meadow buried deep in the woods, her loneliness became more unbearable.
It was Samhain—All Hallow’s Eve—and the members of her coven were
gathered around the bonfire in celebration of the beginning of winter.
Families were clustered on blankets and laughing together. Lovers were
dancing around the fire or lingering in the shadows, sharing
Shana knew she could approach any of the families and
they would welcome her into their circle. But being welcome wasn’t the
same as belonging, and she hadn’t felt this alone since her parents’
deaths ten years ago. With another sigh, she pushed away from the tree
and decided to go home. Her shoulders sagged at the realization that no
one would even miss her.
"Stop wallowing in self-pity," she chided herself as
she headed into the forest and began the short walk home, "Life is going
to get better. Soon, you’ll find a mate, and with any luck it will be a
mortal who will take you away from Sanctuary. You’ll finally be able to
see the world, and you’ll build a new life for yourself. You’ll be a
part of a family again, and you’ll be deliriously happy,"
Unfortunately, her pep talk didn’t bolster her
spirits, because she recognized the inherent problems in it. Although
the council of high priests had recently given permission for members of
her coven to seek mortal mates, unmated witches were still not allowed
to leave coven boundaries. The only mortals with whom she came into
contact were tourists visiting Sanctuary, and most of the men were
married. She knew her chances of finding a mortal mate were
serendipitous at best.
But if she couldn’t find a mortal with whom to share
her life, she would have to mate with a warlock. Unfortunately, the
chances of that happening seemed just as slim. Most of the warlocks in
her age group were already mated, and those that weren’t simply didn’t
appeal to her.
By the time she arrived home, she concluded that she
would be alone forever. She wanted to rant and rave at the unfairness,
but she was too depressed to summon up the energy to do so. Instead, she
wandered through the house, trying to remember what it had been like
when her parents were alive and she had belonged. But the memories she
sought had faded with time and were as elusive as her dreams.
"I wish there was some way I could know the future,"
she murmured as she stood at the kitchen window and stared morosely at
the full moon. "Am I going to fall in love? If so, will it be with a
mortal who will take me away from Sanctuary? Or will I spend the rest of
my life imprisoned in this miserable monotony of coven life?"
If that is your future, can you face each day with
the knowledge that this is all there will ever be? an inner voice
She raked a hand through her hair, rattled by the
question. Could she deal with that knowledge? Yes, she grimly decided,
because not knowing was worse. She was almost twenty-seven years old,
and she was tired of living in limbo. If there was just some way that
she could find out what the future held, then she could come to grips
with her life. But there was no way to determine the future.
What about the enchanted Tarot deck?
The thought had come from nowhere, and it startled
her that she could even think something so blasphemous. Even more
disturbing, however, was the titillation the thought evoked. If she did
use the enchanted Tarot deck, it would tell her everything she wanted to
"Don’t be ridiculous," she scolded herself. "The
enchanted Tarot deck is cursed!"
But the curse will only go into effect if the deck is
used by someone in love. Since you’re not in love, it wouldn’t apply
"I couldn’t possibly use the deck," she told herself
firmly. "It’s against coven law."
And who’s going to know you used it?
Temptation stirred inside her. Did she dare use the
"Surely one quick peek at my future wouldn’t be
dangerous," she assured herself. "And I am the caretaker of the deck. If
nothing else, I should check to make sure it’s still in its hiding
She headed for the special room in her home that
served as the coven’s repository. When she entered the room, she was
barely aware of the hundreds of items cluttering tables and filling
display cases. Her attention was focused on the fireplace, where the
enchanted Tarot deck was hidden.
As she approached the fireplace, she nervously rubbed
her hands against her thighs. What she was about to do was against coven
law, and if she was caught. . . She closed her eyes, refusing to think
about the harsh penalty that would be imposed.
"All I’m going to do is use the deck to learn my
future," she stated, hoping that by saying the words aloud it would ease
her worried conscience. "It isn’t as if I’m going to endanger anyone."
And what about the curse?
Shana involuntarily shivered at the reminder. Then
she gave an impatient shake of her head. "For the curse to work, I have
to be in love, so it doesn’t apply to me."
With newfound determination, she slid her fingers
across the cool bricks of the fireplace until she found the trigger for
the secret panel. When she pressed it, a stone in the hearth slid open,
revealing a palm-size wooden box.
Staring at it, she caught her breath in awe. Its
surface was engraved with symbols so old she suspected no one remembered
their meaning. But it wasn’t its beauty that captivated her. It was the
magical power she could feel emanating from it.
Tentatively, she touched the lid, and she immediately
snatched her hand back. The wood felt oddly warm—almost alive—and she
would have sworn she felt a heartbeat.
"You’re being silly," she mumbled, chafing her hands
against her arms as goose bumps scattered across her skin. "It’s
impossible for inanimate objects to have heartbeats."
Her declaration didn’t alleviate the eerie sensation.
As she continued to stare at the box, she knew that the sensible thing
to do was close the secret panel and forget the Tarot. Everyone else had
to wait for their future to unfold. Why should she have an advantage
over them? The answer, of course, was that she shouldn’t have an
"But I’ll go crazy if I don’t have some indication of
what I can expect in life!" she fretted. "And even if there is something
strange going on here, I don’t meet the criteria to fulfill the curse.
What could it hurt to just take a peek? I won’t do a full reading. I’ll
only do enough to find out if I should resign myself to spending the
rest of my life in Sanctuary. Once I have the answer, I’ll put the Tarot
"But I have to hurry!" she reminded herself as she
felt the magnetic pull of the witching hour. All the coven’s members
were at the festival bonfire, but they’d soon gather for their midnight
ritual. Once their power combined, they would learn what she was doing
and stop her.
Despite her urgency, she cautiously trailed her
fingertips across the lid of the box. It still felt oddly alive, but
there was no sensation of a heartbeat. She sighed in relief. It had only
been her imagination.
Lifting the box, she quickly carried it to the center
of the pentagram, which was built into the hardwood floor. After setting
the box down, she hastily gathered the sacred candles that were stored
in the hiding place with the box. Then she lit and placed a candle on
each of the five points of the star forming the inside of the pentagram.
When she was done, she returned to the center and sat cross-legged
beside the box.
She drew in an excited breath. Tonight the veil
between this world and the spirit world was at its thinnest. All she had
to do was summon the spirit of the ancient witch, Moira, who had cast
her spell over the Tarot more than five hundred years ago. With Moira
present, the cards would accurately foretell her future.
Drawing in another breath, she opened the lid and
reached for the deck, which was wrapped in white silk yellowed with age.
When she touched the silken packet, she was hit with a surge of energy
so strong it felt like a high-voltage electrical shock arcing up her
Jerking her hand back, she rubbed at her tingling arm
and eyed the deck warily. What had happened? It felt as if the Tarot had
power, and until she summoned Moira that was impossible. Was there a
spell over it to keep it from being read? Recognizing that was a good
possibility, she mumbled a frustrated curse. She couldn’t come this
close and fail!
Hesitantly, she reached for the packet again,
expecting another jolt. When nothing happened, she couldn’t decide if
she was relieved or alarmed. Obviously, there wasn’t a spell in place,
so what had caused that surge of energy?
Though she wanted to attribute it to an overactive
imagination, she knew it wasn’t true. She was also forced to admit that
whatever had happened was beyond her realm of experience. She was, after
all, dealing with magic that hadn’t been practiced in hundreds of years,
and only a fool would use the Tarot. She had to put it away.
Wistfully, she ran her fingers over the silk. Like
the box, it felt oddly alive. She couldn’t help wondering what the cards
looked like. Since they were so old, they wouldn’t resemble a modern
deck. Surely it wouldn’t hurt to take a quick look at them before she
put them away.
Just a look, she promised herself as she carefully
unwrapped the silk and removed the deck.
Fanning the cards out in her hand, she frowned. Their
backs were solid black. When she turned them over, she discovered that
the faces were also black. Even more puzzling was that the stack was so
small she automatically counted the cards. There were only twenty-two
instead of the seventy-eight needed to comprise a full deck. Where were
the remainder of them?
Just shuffle the cards.
Shana started as the order echoed in her mind.
Suddenly, the cards seemed to move in her hand, and a shudder of alarm
raced through her. She looked down at them, and they moved again, a
slithering, sinuous motion that reminded her of a snake. As the hair on
the back of her neck prickled, she realized that there was only one
reason for the cards to come alive. Moira.
"That’s not possible!" she gasped, fearfully glancing
around the room. She hadn’t summoned Moira, and a spirit couldn’t come
without a summons.
Just shuffle the cards!
As the demand again flashed through Shana’s mind, the
flames on the candles flared higher and began to undulate. The air
seemed to crackle with expectancy. Even as fear threatened to overwhelm
her, excitement stirred inside her. If Moira really was here, then so
were the answers to her future.
Her common sense insisted that she put the Tarot away
before it was too late, but she reminded herself that she was protected
by the pentagram. No one—not even a powerful spirit witch like
Moira—could enter it uninvited. As long as she remained within its
boundaries she was safe, so what would it hurt to lay out a couple of
She began to shuffle the deck. When she was done, she
turned the first card over and her heart skipped a beat. The face of the
card was no longer black. She was staring at an image of herself dressed
in a black robe and wearing a strange peaked cap. Resting on her
shoulder was a bundle suspended from a stick and she carried a blood-red
rose in her hand. She was standing on the edge of a cliff and staring
rapturously up at the sky, as though unaware that her next step would
take her over the edge. There were no words on the cards, but she didn’t
need words to know she was being depicted as The Fool, and the card was
in the reverse position.
She tried to give it a positive reading, but she knew
instinctively that the real interpretation was folly—an imprudent
venture that would have disastrous consequences.
New fear began to bubble inside her as her
self-protective instincts screamed, Put the deck away!
She wanted to do exactly that, but her hands seemed
to have become spellbound. No matter how hard she fought against them,
they continued to lay out the cards. When they finally stilled, she had
lain out the remaining twenty-one cards in an unfamiliar spread
resembling an inverted pentagram. Even more bizarre, however, was that
except for The Fool, the other cards remained black.
Before she could speculate what that meant, the air
outside the pentagram began to shimmer and a form began to take shape.
It was as dark and faceless as the cards; yet, it was as incorporeal as
Her fear escalated to terror. Moira was here.
But how had she come without a summons? Even as Shana asked the question
she knew that how it had happened wasn’t important. What mattered was
why Moira had come, and there could only be one answer. Moira was here
to lay claim to a soul so she could again exist in this world. Since
Shana was the person who had brought her here, it stood to reason that
it was her soul the ancient witch wanted.
But she can only claim the soul of a person in love,
Shana reminded herself, trying to curb the panic exploding inside her.
Since she wasn’t in love, Moira couldn’t harm her.
"Don’t you want to know why you can’t read the
cards?" Moira suddenly demanded, interrupting Shana’s frightened musing.
Don’t answer! Shana warned herself. If I pretend that
she doesn’t exist, maybe she’ll leave. If she doesn’t, it won’t be long
before the coven meets. They’ll figure out what’s going on and send her
Even as she offered herself the reassurance of a
rescue, she realized that it might not be true. Moira had been the most
powerful witch who had ever lived. Since she had been able to cross over
without a summons, it was possible her magic was greater than the
coven’s. As much as Shana wanted to ignore her, she knew she was better
off knowing what she faced.
With a frightened gulp, she proposed, "I can’t read
the cards because they belong to you?"
"So does the future, and now yours will be mine!"
Moira replied triumphantly, pointing a shrouded arm toward the cards.
There was a brilliant flash of light, and Shana
reflexively closed her eyes against it. When she opened them, both Moira
and the cards were gone.
Wrapping her arms around herself, she fearfully
whispered, "I’m not in love, so she can’t hurt me. She can’t!"
At her words, an unearthly cackle filled the air, and
the card of The Fool appeared above her head. It hung suspended for
several seconds, and then it drifted down to fall at Shana’s feet.